Frankenstein reads. Art by Henry Chamberlain
First, you need to know how cool this book is. Imagine your favorite late night college radio show. And the deejay is Jason V Brock, the author of this book, “Disorders of Magnitude.” You rely upon Jason to provide insights and intriguing facts as he connects the dots. Good, so far? Well, it gets even better. We’re talking about a multitude of connections, some from on high and some from on low. It’s not easy to categorize it all but Brock manages to collect a lot of essential wisdom and in a very accessible presentation. The college radio analogy is fitting since “Disorders of Magnitude” falls under an academic book category. It is right at home as part of a college course. But it is also the perfect companion for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of where we are today in terms of the entertainment we consume, particularly dark fantasy.
Divided into six parts, with a wide scope of offerings within, the intent is to give order to what might seem at first, like an ooey gooey disorder. How do you reconcile great literature alongside B-movies? In fact, there’s a certain frenetic energy running throughout as Brock maintains a sense of urgency to his prose. And, of course, the numerous chapters here invite picking subjects at random to dive into, with each concise chapter running a few pages. One excellent point of entry is Chapter 14 in Part Three which discusses the formation and evolution of The Group, the science fiction writers in Los Angeles during the ’50s and ’60s that would go on to create work in novels, film, and television, including the iconic and culturally significant, “The Twilight Zone,” television series. This one article alone proves to be an exemplary example of the book as a whole as it navigates through various eras and aspects of culture and entertainment.
“In the beginning is the dream,” states Brock in reference to The Group. They begin, like any band of pioneers, with “the crazy notion that they are somehow different–that they can leave a permanent mark on society, make a difference in the world.” It is this bravado and deep yearning that sustains men like Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson, and many others. They look up to two men who lead the way: Ray Bradbury, who is already established; and the firebrand Charles Beaumont destined upon his own unique path. And we keep coming back to The Group as Brock revels in chronicling their lives and provides here many interviews with the key figures on the scene.
Heading back from whence we came, Brock sets the stage with the opening article. “Frankenstein” was published anonymously in 1818 and, with that, the monster of horror and science fiction was unequivocally unleashed. Brock is great with setting up a mood to a time and place. He describes in detail the utterly strange weather conditions that, in no small way, gave rise to “Frankenstein” and other melancholic and moody art and writing. This all came about from a volcano in Indonesia. Its eruption in 1815, the largest ever witnessed in recorded human history, sent plumes of volcanic ash into the skies above around the globe for over a year forever altering life, and artistic sensibility, down below.
We steadily move to another chapter and other great writers in the gothic tradition: Poe, Stevenson, Stoker. Then we jump to another chapter and the next wave exemplified by H.P. Lovecraft and his evocation of the “fear of the unknown.” And after that, we take a significant turn with a chapter devoted to Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008). Like the activities of The Group, Ackerman figures heavily in Brock’s studies of pop culture. And it only stands to reason given Ackerman’s pivotal role in the scheme of things that, you must keep in mind, touches upon virtually every aspect of pop culture as we know it today: movies, games, television, comics, music, novels, the internet, and our own precious sensibilities.
Ackerman is, indeed, another circle of influence too large to hold in just one chapter and he, like other persons and movements, overlaps into other chapters. Ackerman did quite a lot in his day, including work as a literary agent to some of the greatest writers in science fiction. Taking it all into a whole, you can say that his main achievement was to assign value to, archive, and make accessible the very things so many held dear: the horror movies of childhood; the dazzling science fiction of yesteryear; the growing world of fandom as we’ve come to know it today. It was Ackerman’s comprehensive and energetic role in legitimizing a myriad of elements that contributed to a more egalitarian view on culture in general.
In a very real sense, Brock has taken on the mantle of Forry Ackerman. It is that heartfelt dedication to the things he loves that you will find in this collection of his writings.
“Disorders of Magnitude” is a 336-page hardcover, priced at $80.00, and published by Rowman & Littlefield. You find it here, here, and here. Visit Jason V Brock here.